Friday, 10 April 2009

E.ON's 'integrated' technology claim is shameless spin

The power firm has decided that installing a few solar panels atop a coal-fired power station constitutes 'integrated' technology

Fred Pearce, Thursday 9 April 2009 11.16 BST

It must be quite hard generating good green PR for the power company E.ON, which is trying to get permission to build Britain's first coal-fired power station in more than 20 years. So well done the press office last week for its offering that "the future's bright at E.ON's Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station".
The station has become "a little greener" by putting 68 solar panels on the roof "to help heat and light the admin block". Its team leader on the environment, Christine Smith, says: "It's a great way to show how new, renewable technology can be integrated with the more traditional way of generating electricity."
"Integrated" is not quite the world I would choose. The company boasts that it will save an estimated 6.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year. Green Party candidate and author of the Carbon Commentary blog Chris Goodall emailed me to point out that that is about one millionth of the emissions from the power plant itself. So, taking account of the saving, the plant's net emissions are now 99.9999% of what they used to be.
Actually, Chris, I think you were too generous. According to Carma (Carbon Monitoring for Action), which keeps tabs on major CO2 emitters round the world, the 40-year-old plant emits 12.8 million tonnes of CO2 a year. It is Britain's third largest source of CO2 into the air. So make that about half of one millionth. Eon is the company that wants to build a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent.
To be fair, the company recognises that a few solar panels on the roof may not be enough to secure government permission. Especially now the energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, has promised a thorough look at the environmental implications of its plans.
Eon's trump card has been to promise that Kingsnorth will be "carbon-capture ready". That is, it will be designed so it is able to bolt on equipment to capture CO2 from the stack emissions and send them off for burial under the sea, or wherever, just as soon as the technology is ready for commercial application.
As we have reported here before that day is about $20 billion and probably a couple of decades away. By then, of course Kingsnorth may have emitted, by my estimate, some 120 million tonnes of CO2. But at least Kingsnorth will be ready.
Except that we are only now learning the extent to which the coal industry is unprepared to pay the billions to get carbon capture to the state when it can be used in anger against climate change.
Last month we learned that the "clean coal" guys are playing dirty. Paul Golby, chief executive of E.ON UK talked at length about the investment needed to make it happen, before dumping the whole deal into the government's lap. "If they fund it, we will fit it," he said.
Excuse me, Mr Golby. You ask the government to break all its promises about a clean energy future in order to allow you to build a coal power station, because you have this great new technology just round the corner that will make it miraculously green after all. Then you add innocently that, of course, the government will have to pay to develop that technology.
To add to the insult, the "pay up or else" threat was made at the London-based Adam Smith Institute, which describes itself as Europe's top "free market think tank". Call me naive, but I thought free marketers paid their own bills rather than relying on government largesse.
I guess we should be pleased that Golby has laid it on the line about who they expect to foot the bills. It's us. Meanwhile, I hope the sun shines on their solar panels.

BP Looks Outside for Solar Cells in Bid to Drive Down Its Costs


In a bid to drive down costs, BP Solar, a subsidiary of oil giant BP PLC, says it will increasingly rely on third-party suppliers to build solar cells and modules.
The decision last month to close a manufacturing facility outside Madrid and partially close another near Baltimore was "designed to get us out of manufacturing that is not competitive," says Rayed Fezzani, chief executive of BP Solar. He said BP would contract with companies to supply the material, which would still carry BP's warranty and brand name. More than 600 BP workers were laid off in the plant closings.
The move, says Mr. Fezzani, was about "the economics of getting solar as cheap as possible." He says he is optimistic that by 2015, solar power won't require any government support in "a big chunk of the United States" because falling costs will make it competitive with conventional electricity sources.
The global economic downturn has increased pressure on solar manufacturers and installers to lower prices in order to remain affordable during the recession. In addition, BP Solar is facing pressure from rival companies such as First Solar Inc., as well as Chinese and Indian manufacturers, to lower costs.
Sanjay Shrestha, a senior alternative energy analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, called the plant closings "a very smart move on the company's part." It allows BP to shed lower-margin manufacturing and focus on engineering and building large utility-scale solar facilities. "I see them becoming a significant player on a project-execution level essentially to help expand the market on a global basis, including the U.S.," said Mr. Shrestha.
Mr. Fezzani said he expects rapid growth in solar sales to the utility sector, which he thinks will grow more quickly than either residential or commercial sectors. Utilities are building large-scale solar installations to deliver electricity to customers and prepare for government mandated renewable portfolio standards.
"We see utility scale solar growing very rapidly, particularly in the U.S. We see large commercial scale which has been growing very steadily, continuing to grow. It has a lot of legs in it." he says. He says BP recently signed a still-undisclosed deal to install 60 megawatts of solar-power generation on a commercial customer's roofs.
Growth in the utility sector is being aided by the new federal investment tax credit and cash grants, which he believes will spur large-scale installations more than the build-out of the residential solar market.
Write to Russell Gold at

Decline in nickel kick-started evolution

Life as we know it may owe its existence to the decline in metal on the early earth.

Last Updated: 8:17AM BST 09 Apr 2009

The massive influx of oxygen into Earth's atmosphere some 2.4 billion years ago that set evolution on a path to multicellular life was unleashed by a cascade of events in which nickel played a starring role.
What scientists call the Great Oxygen Event "irreversibly changed surface environments on Earth and ultimately made advanced life possible," said Dominic Papineau of the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory and a co-author of the study.

"It was a major turning point in the evolution of our planet."
Scientists generally agree that this oxygen surge was made possible by a rapid decline in atmospheric levels of methane.
But why methane dropped off has remained a mystery.
The researchers, led by Kurt Konhauser of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, believe the answer lies in rocks that were formed before oxygen was abundant in the air or the sea.
Analysing changes over time in the level of trace elements in these rocks, the scientists noticed that levels of nickel dropped just before oxygen levels soared.
This piece of evidence led them to fit all the pieces of theoretical puzzle together.
The dominant life form before the Great Oxygen Event was the methanogen - a single-celled ocean organism that exuded methane as a byproduct of its metabolism.
The enormous quantities of methane these methanogens produced almost certainly prevented the build up of oxygen in the air.
To survive, these creatures gobbled up nickel, which existed 2.7 billion years ago in quantities 400 times greater than today.
By 2.5 billion years ago, nickel levels in the oceans had dropped by more than half.
Starved of this nutrient, the methanogens declined and their output of methane plummeted.
This cleared the way for a class of photosynthesising life forms and ocean plants.

Climate change on Capitol Hill

The Waxman-Markey climate change bill would be a bold step forward, but it needs help to make it past the Senate

Brian Beutler, Thursday 9 April 2009 21.30 BST

Things are finally aligned in the US Congress to pass sweeping climate change legislation. The new chairman of the relevant committee, California's Henry Waxman, has been on the right side of the issue for years. His deputy, so to speak, Massachusetts' Ed Markey, has equally strong bona fides. Together, they've put together a fairly robust climate change bill, which has won plaudits from most of America's major environmental groups. The Democratic party enjoys a five-seat majority in a 435-seat body led by Nancy Pelosi, for whom climate change is a top priority.
There's just one problem: the other house of Congress.
The US Senate is, to paraphrase Norm Orenstein, a broken institution. It is paralysed by egotism, both vis-a-vis its individual members and the entire body's regard for itself. It is designed in an undemocratic way, and it piles on to that undemocratic design by standing forthrightly behind undemocratic rules that have no particular basis in the US constitution
For some issues, that doesn't spell doom. The Senate's current make up (58 Democratic members, 41 Republicans and one liberal Democrat yet to be seated) means that the filibuster, or the threat thereof, empowers a bloc of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans to make a big mark on major legislation. But it doesn't give the Republicans reliable veto power over President Barack Obama's entire agenda. This is how the debate over the economic stimulus played out, and, to a lesser extent, the federal budget as well.
But the Senate seems at times as if it's designed to choke the life out of climate change legislation. One major problem is that the constitution designed it to give the smallest states in the union the same amount of representative clout as the most populous, which skews the body's politics in a number of ways.
Republicans hold 41% of the Senate's seats, but represent a significantly smaller percentage of the nation's population. Along the same lines, Democrats from coal- and oil-producing states and manufacturing states have disproportionate power relative to their states' sizes. Combine that with the fact that most major legislation can't pass without a 60-vote supermajority behind it, and you can see why climate change legislation (or climate change legislation that's up to the task of forestalling crisis) isn't a sure thing.
That's a shame, because the Waxman-Markey bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009) is a fairly robust bill. It would create a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 83% below 2005 levels by 2050 (and, perhaps more importantly, would enforce steep reductions early – 20% reductions by 2020 and 42% by 2030).
It has some potential shortfalls, too, most of which are meant to short-circuit the political realities I outlined above. It would hand out some emissions allowances to energy-intensive manufacturing industries, instead of auctioning 100% of them. It contains price-control provisions meant to keep allowances from becoming too expensive too quickly, but which could ultimately make meeting yearly emissions goals difficult. And it would allow companies to account for emissions reductions by buying "offsets", many of which are extremely dubious, or, at the very least, troublingly opaque.
But back to the politics. It's hard to know why Waxman and Markey included these loopholes at the outset. Maybe those provisions will serve as a sign of good faith and help the bill earn early support from sceptical Democrats. But even if the bill had started out flawless, the Senate would almost certainly have inserted those flaws, and many many more, before subjecting it to a three-fifths majority cloture requirement which it might well fail.
Which is all a very long way of saying: congratulations to the House of Representatives! You're doing admirable work. We wish you the best of luck. You're going to need it. But you must be used to the frustration by now.

Health risks of shipping pollution have been 'underestimated'

One giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50m cars, study finds

John Vidal, environment editor, Thursday 9 April 2009 15.50 BST

Britain and other European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution following research which shows that one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50m cars.
Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world's biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world's 760m cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel (or fuel oil) has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.
Pressure is mounting on the UN's International Maritime Organisation and the EU to tighten laws governing ship emissions following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast, a move that is expected to be followed by Canada.
The setting up of a low emission shipping zone follows US academic research which showed that pollution from the world's 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year in the US alone and costs up to $330bn per year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulphur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.
The new study by the Danish government's environmental agency adds to this picture. It suggests that shipping emissions cost the Danish health service almost £5bn a year, mainly treating cancers and heart problems. A previous study estimated that 1,000 Danish people die prematurely each year because of shipping pollution. No comprehensive research has been carried out on the effects on UK coastal communities, but the number of deaths is expected to be much higher.
Europe, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, has dramatically cleaned up sulphur and nitrogen emissions from land-based transport in the past 20 years but has resisted imposing tight laws on the shipping industry, even though the technology exists to remove emissions. Cars driving 15,000km a year emit approximately 101 grammes of sulphur oxide gases (or SOx) in that time. The world's largest ships' diesel engines which typically operate for about 280 days a year generate roughly 5,200 tonnes of SOx.
The EU plans only two low-emission marine zones which should come into force in the English channel and Baltic sea after 2015. However, both are less stringent than the proposed US zone, and neither seeks to limit deadly particulate emissions.
Shipping emissions have escalated in the past 15 years as China has emerged as the world's manufacturing capital. A new breed of intercontinental container ship has been developed which is extremely cost-efficient. However, it uses diesel engines as powerful as land-based power stations but with the lowest quality fuel.
"Ship pollution affects the health of communities in coastal and inland regions around the world, yet pollution from ships remains one of the least regulated parts of our global transportation system," said James Corbett, professor of marine policy at the University of Delaware, one of the authors of the report which helped persuade the US government to act.
Today a spokesman for the UK government's Maritime and Coastguard Agency accepted there were major gaps in the legislation. "Issues of particulate matter remain a concern. They need to be addressed and we look forward to working with the international community," said environment policy director Jonathan Simpson.
"Europe needs a low emission zone right around its coasts, similar to the US, if we are to meet health and environmental objectives," said Crister Agrena of the Air Pollution and Climate Secretariat in Gothenburg, one of Europe's leading air quality organisations.
"It is unacceptable that shipping remains one of the most polluting industries in the world. The UK must take a lead in cleaning up emissions," said Simon Birkett, spokesman for the Campaign for Clean Air in London. "Other countries are planning radical action to achieve massive health and other savings but the UK is strangely inactive."
The calculations of ship and car pollution are based on the world's largest 85,790KW ships' diesel engines which operate about 280 days a year generating roughly 5,200 tonnes of SOx a year, compared with diesel and petrol cars which drive 15,000km a year and emit approximately 101gm of SO2/SoX a year.
Shipping by numbers
The world's biggest container ships have 109,000 horsepower engines which weigh 2,300 tons.
Each ship expects to operate 24hrs a day for about 280 days a year
There are 90,000 ocean-going cargo ships
Shipping is responsible for 18-30% of all the world's nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution and 9% of the global sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution.
One large ship can generate about 5,000 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution in a year
70% of all ship emissions are within 400km of land.
85% of all ship pollution is in the northern hemisphere.
Shipping is responsible for 3.5% to 4% of all climate change emissions

Japan goes green with £100bn economic recovery

• Boost for electric cars and solar power • Analysts say Kyoto target may still not be met
Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Julia Kollewe
The Guardian, Friday 10 April 2009

Japan will today announce a ¥15tn (£102bn) stimulus package that focuses on boosting the green economy in an attempt to drag the country out of its worst recession since the second world war.
The total is a substantial increase from the £68bn package announced by the prime minister, Taro Aso, on Monday, and is likely to top ¥56tn when other measures such as tax cuts and credit guarantees are included.
"I want to show that Japan's future is not all that dark if we follow this vision," Aso said. "If you just read the newspapers, it seems like tomorrow will be completely gloomy. But this is not the case. There is some light."
In addition to pledging more loans for hard-pressed small businesses and cash for job creation, it will also encourage the start of mass production of electric cars in three years and boost solar power generation to 20 times the current level of 1.42m kilowatts.
The stimulus package also includes a car scrappage scheme similar to the "cash for clunkers" programme being debated in the US Congress.
Motorists will be eligible for between ¥100,000 and ¥250,000 in subsidies if they trade in cars that are more than 13 years old for a hybrid or other environment-friendly vehicle.
Though details have yet to be released, the measures could result in new car sales of between 450,000 to 1.51m, according to the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Together with the introduction of lower taxes on clean-energy cars, consumers replacing an old vehicle for, say, a new Toyota Prius hybrid could make savings of about US$4,000.
The news prompted a stockmarket rally and sent the Nikkei index in Tokyo soaring by 3.7% to 8916.06. Shares in Toyota, maker of the Prius hybrid, rose 4.3%, while those of Sharp, the world's second-largest maker of solar cells, surged 10.7%.
However, analysts said that if the latest stimulus works, the resulting boost in demand for carbon-fuelled electricity could negate any advances made by the wider use of green cars.
The country is only just beginning to address its poor track record on green spending. While industry, the biggest polluter, has been left to aim for voluntary targets, the onus is now on individual householders and businesses to spearhead Japan's version of the Green New Deal.
Until now Japan has set aside only 2.6% of total spending for climate change measures, compared with 12% in the US and 34% in China, an HSBC report said.
Some analysts doubted that the envisaged shift to fuel-efficient cars would have much of an impact on Japan's attempts to meet its Kyoto protocol targets. The country's greenhouse gas emissions rose 2.3% last year, putting them at 16% above the target it has committed itself to achieving by 2013.
"I don't think the stimulus will make any notable contribution to Japan's emission cuts," said Itsuho Haruta of Natsource Japan, adding that the package would make only a tiny contribution to the fall in emissions expected as a result of plunging industrial output.
The government also plans to revive the use of solar energy by expanding a scheme in which power companies - traditionally reluctant to boost their use of renewables - will buy more surplus energy generated by households equipped with solar panels.
It will also set up solar power generators at 37,000 schools and introduce heat-insulating materials and other energy-saving measures in 3m buildings over the next three years.
The measures - which are equivalent to 3% of the country's GDP - were approved by the ruling Liberal Democratic party's executive council. The government is expected to approve the proposals today.
Officials have not said where they would find the extra money, though Aso recently said he would turn to issuing bonds if needed.
Last month, Japan's parliament passed a record ¥88.5tn budget for the new fiscal year, which started on 1 April, including parts of Aso's two previous stimulus packages.

Nissan and Renault to Supply Electric Cars to China

BEIJING, April 10 (Reuters) - Japan's Nissan Motor Co and France's Renault said on Friday they will supply electric cars to China, the world's largest auto market.
The Franco-Japanese alliance will provide the Chinese government with a comprehensive plan for marketing and for a battery-charging network, with the aim of selling electric vehicles to China in early 2011.
Earlier this year, Beijing kicked off a pilot program to promote clean energy vehicles in the public transport sector in 13 cities, underlining government efforts to address issues such as environmental pollution and energy security.
Wuhan, the capital city of central Hubei province, has been selected as the first city under a memorandum of understanding signed by Nissan and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China.
Nissan did not disclose any financial details of the agreement or the number of electric vehicles it will supply to Wuhan.
Electric vehicles are meant to be cheaper to run than regular cars and reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions.
Two Chinese automakers have also sought to tap potential demand for clean energy cars. BYD Auto, a subsidiary of rechargeable battery maker BYD Co., launched its plug-in hybrid car F3DM in China late last year. And Chery Automobile rolled out its first self-developed electric car, the S18, in February.
Nissan said in February it aimed to expand its Chinese vehicle sales by 4.6 percent in 2009 in a market that has become one of the few remaining hopes for the embattled industry.
The firm is expecting to sell 570,000 cars and light commercial vehicles this year in China, which accounted for about 15 percent of its global sales last year.
Vehicle sales in China, which surpassed the United States in January to become the world's largest car market, climbed to a record in March, extending gains from the previous month, helped by government incentives to bolster demand in both urban and rural areas, official data show. (Reporting by Michael Wei; Editing by Ken Wills)

Gordon Brown's electric car subsidy rejected by industry

• Automotive analyst calls offer 'pointless soundbite • Trade body says incentive unlikely to increase sales
Tim Webb
The Guardian, Friday 10 April 2009

The car industry has poured cold water on Gordon Brown's offer to provide a £2,000 subsidy to purchasers of electric cars - a move that one automotive analyst described as a "pointless soundbite".
Asked by the Guardian for details of the offer, a spokeswoman for Lord Mandelson's department of business said No 10 was taking the lead on the initiative. A No 10 spokeswoman said Mandelson's department had the details.
It was reported this week that the government was planning to offer the incentive to boost the sale of electric cars, helping the moribund British car industry become more environmentally friendly. Brown, it was reported, wants the UK to become a "world leader" in the production and export of electric cars.
But a spokeswoman for the trade body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said the £2,000 subsidy would not have much effect on sales. A lack of charging points around the country limits the appeal of electric cars such as the G-Wiz, she said, while the choice of electric models on the market is limited. "We would welcome moves to encourage the take-up of any kind of low carbon technology," she added. "But purely having a scrappage scheme open to electric vehicles is not going to see a dramatic increase in sales."
The sale of electric cars in Britain more than halved last year, mainly because only small cars are on offer and because of safety fears. If the £2,000 subsidy had been in place, the government would have had to pay less than £500,000 to purchasers. There are only six companies in the UK that make electric cars and commercial vehicles or parts, employing only a few hundred people.
Paul Newton, analyst at IHS Global Insight, said the subsidy offer would not provide any immediate assistance to ailing British car makers, who have been savaged by the recession. "To offer £2,000 to potential buyers sounds great in theory but the fact there is a handful of small, almost backyard, manufacturers underlines the pointlessness of it," he said. "What the suppliers and the advanced technology companies need is something to keep them alive and put bread in their mouths today. If they disappear, the UK won't be able to benefit when electric cars become more commercially viable."
The government has repeatedly rebuffed requests to back the rescue of the van maker LDV, which wants to convert itself into an electric van manufacturer. Newton added: "If the government was serious about promoting the manufacture of electric vehicles in the UK, why did they refuse to support LDV?"
Car makers have slashed production, laid off thousands of workers and imposed wage cuts because of a collapse in sales. The SMMT wants the government to follow the example of other countries, such as Germany, and introduce a broadranging scrappage scheme whereby people who trade in their old cars get £2,000 off a new and more fuel-efficient model.
The government is reluctant to follow suit, despite the dramatic increase in sales in Germany. Mandelson told Sky News yesterday: "We're not in the business of bailing out the past."

All aboard the electric bus . . . Please hold tight for 15 minutes while we recharge

The Times
April 10, 2009

Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

Passengers will have to be patient on a new electric bus because drivers may have to stop to recharge the batteries.
The first bus to run entirely on electricity since the trolleybus era was demonstrated to potential operators in London yesterday.
It is so quiet that the manufacturer is adding speakers to broadcast an artificial hum to stop pedestrians from stepping out in front of it.
Made in Leeds, the buses are likely to operate in several cities, including London and Birmingham, and will also ferry passengers between airport car parks and terminals. They emit no air pollution but can travel only 60 miles before the twin batteries need recharging. Optare, the manufacturer, is advising local authorities that drivers may need to stop en route for 15 minutes for a short recharge at high-current charging points at the roadside.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, announced plans this week to install 25,000 charging points by 2015 to service up to 100,000 electric vehicles. A 15-minute charge would allow the bus to travel seven miles, usually enough to complete a route and return to the depot for a full recharge.
Mark Houlton, Optare’s engineering director, said: “There could be a small inconvenience to passengers if the batteries needed recharging, but this would be outweighed by the significant environmental benefits of running on electricity.”
He said that operators would try to ensure that the batteries were fully charged at the start of each day and design timetables to allow for charging.
Unlike previous large electric vehicles that used bulky lead-acid batteries, the buses use compact lithium-ion batteries, which are half the weight and require minimal maintenance.
The electric buses cost about £160,000, compared with £100,000 for a similar-sized diesel bus. However, Optare claims that operators will break even within eight years because the operating costs are £8,000 a year cheaper. The electricity costs £1 for every ten miles, compared with £2 to travel the same distance on diesel.
Every time the electric bus brakes, it captures the energy and feeds it back into the batteries. It accelerates faster but more smoothly than a diesel equivalent, meaning that the ride should be more comfortable for passengers. The top speed is 56mph (90kmh).
Mr Houlton said that several operators were concerned about the lack of engine noise. The company is offering a variety of artificial noises, which could be broadcast continuously.
Trolleybuses entered public service in Britain in 1911 and operated in 50 towns and cities by the 1950s. The last ones were withdrawn from service in Bradford in 1972.